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I tend to eat one small meal/snack and one very large meal each day, as opposed to the typical breaskfast, lunch and dinner.

I always feel that I eat enough and my body seems well suited to this routine. Is this in anyway detrimental to exercise? Would I gain anything by switching to a breakfast lunch and dinner routine?

I am mainly interested in strength building although I am interested if there can be an impact in general.

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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted
  • First let's look at the energy aspect:

Your body has three energy stores: glycogen, fat and muscle. Free glucose is not an energy store.

Glycogen is refilled with carbohydrates and you can store 200-400g of it in your liver and muscle. It gets used for quick energy bursts (anaerobic), for regular energy and for keeping your blood glucose level up (mostly needed for the brain). You can deplete the entire store quite easily within a day.

(some people (including me) take this as a sign that carbs should not be a major part of your diet)

Our fat stores, even when lean, hold tens to hundreds of thousands of kcal, literally a month or more of energy. It provides energy at a slower rate than glycogen does for the same oxygen intake.

I list muscle for completeness. The body will break down muscle for energy and/or for the protein so if you like your muscles make sure to eat at least 20g protein/day (IIRC).

When you only eat one meal a day your metabolism will be very fat-dominant, which is perfectly fine. If you are very active, you may deplete your glycogen stores before you refill them at meal time. Your maximum power will be a little less and you won't be able to be as bursty. Your liver will start to make glucose from protein. If there is no protein available, muscle breakdown will occur.

  • Now let's look at the health aspect:

When you fast for more than 12-16 hours, your cells start doing housekeeping. This is a good thing with many health benefits. See also here.

  • Bottom line:

If you feel fine, keep doing it. After heavy exercise, consider a banana to refill glycogen.

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A couple thoughts specific to your situation:

1) Strength training requires protein. Our bodies can't store more than 50g at a time. Hence, 3 50g protein meals are better than getting 150g all at once.

2) You will perform better with some carbs in your system.

3) You will recover better with a combo of carbs and protein.

Does this mean 6 meals a day waking up at 2am for protein shakes? No. It does mean timing the meals and spreading out your protein matters. Working out us the hard part. Might as well eat healthy to get the benefit. But if you feel good, don't go too nuts with the changes.

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Do you have a reference for the 50g at a time thing? Seems to me that the body can extract amino acids while the food is in the small intestine. This says that the SI will be 50% emptied after 3 hours, and if your body is used to one meal/day, might it not be even longer? –  w00t Feb 28 '12 at 19:23
    
Conventional wisdom had been my source. Here's one that suggests it's even less than 50! sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091026125543.htm –  MathAttack Mar 3 '12 at 6:36
    
Interesting... Well in the case of one meal a day that probably means that you get around 30g protein a day to build muscle with. If it all gets used then with the typical 16% protein content of muscle you could still grow 66kg of muscle a year :-) –  w00t Mar 7 '12 at 20:24
    
Per the original (very good) answer above you need some protein for regular wear and tear too. I hope your 30 grams comes from bacon! –  MathAttack Mar 10 '12 at 19:37
    
Bacon is awesome :) yeah some of it will indeed be used for other purposes but even 5g/day will build an impressive amount of muscle. I suppose there is lots of variability and probably no research done for this feeding pattern, so it would be interesting to know if Matt has any muscle gain? –  w00t Mar 12 '12 at 1:02
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When asked how much you should eat when trying to build strength and size, you'll hear many say 6 meals a day. Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Snack. Which is typically every 2 to 3 hours. This is to keep your feeding your body the nutrients it needs. However, this isn't always needed. You're eating a single large meal and a snack a day. If you're trying to lose weight this would be a problem because it slows down your metabolism and causes your body to store more fat as reserves.

When you eat multiple meals a day, your body learns and is on a schedule knowing it will be receiving the nutrients it needs for energy and such, therefore it doesn't hold onto the bad.

So to answer your questions, it is best for weight purpose and exercise, since you keep your body fueled throughout the day for energy and nutrients, if you consume multiple meals a day rather than one.

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